Panama City Beach (Fla.) to Penalize Repeat False Alarm Offenders

Residents will receive three warnings before they are issued a $250 citation. Every false alarm after that will cost $500.

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. — In an attempt to stem an ongoing dilemma of nuisance alarms, city officials here decided to take a strict approach by imposing fines to stop repeat false alarm offenders.

At a Panama City Beach City Council meeting on Nov. 12, officials finalized a new rule that allows penalties for residential and commercial false alarms. The ordinance was first discussed during a meeting in October.

According to City Manager Tony O’Rourke via the Panama City News Herald, residents will receive three warnings before they are issued a $250 citation. Every false alarm after that will cost $500. Commercial and multifamily structures are allowed two warnings before being fined $500 and $1,000 for every false call thereafter.

He added that the fines provide “a clear financial incentive” for alarm companies to verify the nature and need of the call and also make sure systems are working properly, the Panama City News Herald reported.

“That’s not only (an) inherent risk for our first responders … but also it is taking away valuable resources in true emergency situations,” O’Rourke said about repeat false alarms.

O’Rourke said Panama City Beach records more than 2,200 false police and fire alarms annually, a conundrum that Mayor Mark Sheldon and other council members agreed was a serious problem.

“When the chiefs are going out and their teams are going out, they don’t know if it’s a false alarm or not,” Sheldon said. “They [respond] with the upmost urgency to every call, and 2,200 times this year, they got there for nothing. They put themselves in danger and everyone else that they passed along the way.”

O’Rourke added that the ordinance is similar to laws in other areas of the country, where it’s proven to be up to 90% effective, the newspaper reported.

“This will both keep the general public safer and reduce unnecessary false alarms in our community,” he said.

In regards to concerns from the public that elderly people with medical alert systems could be at risk for fines, Councilman Michael Jarman said manual activations aren’t considered false alarms, the newspaper reported.

Jarman said the city currently charges a permit fee for commercial fire alarm installations, which lets officials keep track of buildings equipped with the systems. The new ordinance also allows for a $40 installation fee on security systems for the same reason.

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